Rien à Déclaré

E3401D3B-4830-481B-BD0F-8C75AB96C701.jpegI have just finished rewatching a very funny Dany Boon French movie set on the French/Belgium border in 1993, the year European  borders were opened and no one needed customs officials anymore.

The film came out in 2010 and shows what happens in a little border town that basically is no longer a border and how the French and the Belgian customs men have to learn to accept each other as fellow human beings. It is a film about the stupidity of racism,  full of slap stick, silly stereotypes and a soppy romantic ending.

It opens on New Year’s Day, when the laws change and the people can move freely and the irony of watching it while waiting for Britain’s borders to slam shut was not lost on me.

I try hard to avoid all controversial subjects in this blog, for all the blindingly obvious reasons . Maybe it will be just as funny when the border guards and customs people separate Britain from our neighbours in Europe. Maybe standing in queues and being suspicious of foreigners will provide us all with a rich vein of reverse humour.

I cross European borders everyday to shop, to visit friends, to go to the doctor, to work: it is as easy as crossing the street. I want everyone to feel as free as I do right now, walls do not always make good neighbours and the fun comes when you don’t need them at all. Then maybe we will all have Rien a déclaré.


How I fell in love with WH Auden. (Sorry for the blank!)

By Susan McDonald:    reblogged from the Guardian Newspaper 25.12.17.

Sorry for the initial blank. I trusted in technology. I imagined all I needed to do was push the WordPress button the Guardian  website, but it just blogged the title.

Many thanks to Maria for spotting the silence!!


I first read his poetry in my late teens. He can be difficult but the images he conjures are concrete and recognisable
WH Auden said “poetry must be entered into by a personal encounter, or it must be left alone”. His poems have been personal for me for 30 years; they’re a touchstone I use now and then to take the measure of my world. There’s just something about him: the stars he sees align with mine. I can trace my own journeys – political, psychological, philosophical, spiritual – along the routes he has mapped.

I first opened Auden’s Selected Poems in my late teens. I’d taken it off my mother’s bookshelf – I knew his name and his fame; I thought I should be reading him. I started with the shorter, less obscure poems. Sometimes my eye even darted between poems, reading a stanza here, a stanza there. I felt I had to ease in slowly – graze around the edges of the feast.

Auden can be difficult, “Audenesque”: that complicated, sometimes terse, syntax. He liked to boast that he had written a poem in every metre but I was oblivious to that achievement; and I had to consult the dictionary frequently (my daily lexicon has never included dapatical, osse and olamic).

But the images he conjured were concrete and instantly recognisable. “Only the hands are living,” he wrote of gamblers in a casino. Of nursing home residents: “All are limitory, but each has her own/nuance of damage.” “Geese podge home.” The moon is a “Presence to glop at”.

How I fell in love with country music | Martin Farrer
As Clive James said, Auden could make anything sound truer than true.

But the form was in the employ of the meaning – and that too has rung true for 30 years.

I was in the middle of an arts degree, trying hard to avoid thinking about getting my first job, when I read The Average, with its allusion to “those smart professions that encourage shallow breathing”. What timing!

I read Moon Landing (“It’s natural the Boys should whoop it up for so huge a phallic triumph”) not long after the space shuttle Challenger disaster. I remember that Rorschach-test explosion in the sky; knew what Auden meant by the “squalid mess called History”.

Then, Musée des Beaux Arts described perfectly the way I had started to feel about moral responsibility; about suffering’s “human position; how it takes place/While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along”.

Unseen WH Auden diary sheds light on famous poem and personal life
In Auden’s world it is part of the human condition to have “promises to keep”: there’s a moral imperative to political, as well as personal, choices.

Why spend money on space travel, for instance, when people are dying of hunger?

I sought out the more directly political Auden as the 21st century dawned. I remember watching the twin towers come down on 9/11. My kids were little – I had one in my arms and the other was playing around my feet, and I had to turn off the TV.

It was too much to contemplate. It was my children’s world now and it was spinning in the wrong direction. I was angry; feared what the US would do next. I wasn’t in one of those “dives on Fifty-Second Street” of Auden’s September 1, 1939, but I stood:

Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade

(Auden was writing about the 30s but his words fit.)

And Refugee Blues mirrored what I considered Australia’s “low dishonest decade” (and more) of asylum seeker policy:

Dreamed I saw a building with a thousand floors,
A thousand windows and a thousand doors:
Not one of them was ours, my dear, not one of them was ours.

War, refugee policy and climate change inaction have charged my political frustrations for most of my adult life and Auden was able to distill the target of that frustration – the wilful blindness of the powerful – with a single line: “The little natures that will make us cry”; and his description of a tyrant needs no explanation in the Trump/Kim Jong-un era:

When he laughed, respectable senators burst with laughter,
And when he cried the little children died in the streets.

But I was always looking for more from Auden. I wanted him to make sense of it all. He was unflinchingly honest about death, about the tyranny of time, the folly of the modern world – but could he offer any hope? His answer was always love:

I’ll love you, dear, I’ll love you
Till China and Africa meet,
And the river jumps over the mountain
And the salmon sing in the street,

Auden was a contradictory man about his Christianity and revisionist about some of his poetry. But that only reflected reticence, a dialectical manner of thought and a great reverence for the world as it is.

In Tonight at Seven-Thirty, Auden says “the funniest mortals and the kindest are those who are most aware of the baffle of being”. I agree – that’s why I’ve read his poems for the past 30 years.


Reading the holidays

We have been off visiting and the birds have abandoned the garden after just a few days without seed, grain or bread crumbs.

So, there is nothing to look at, but plenty of books to read in this blissfully quiet time of year. So what am I reading? Well as usual, I am reading lots of things at once, which is confusing only when the characters meet in my dreams in an after lunch snooze.

Firstly, I am reading “A Visit to Don Octavio” by Sybille Bedford which is a wonderful piece of period travel writing in which two American  women explore Mexico and discover its lush delights and also that, as Don Octavio says, “You will be very uncomfortable and not at all happy”, if they stray from his elegant hacienda.

I am also reading “William the Outlaw”by Richmal Compton and “William the Bandit” as the pitch perfect vignettes of 1930s Britain, with their caustic line drawings which could not have been bettered  by PG Woodhouse and are definitely wasted on children.

To keep me sane on the plane, I escaped in wonderful Muriel Sparks’ “The  Mandelbaum Gate” and the turmoil and intrigue  of the Israel and Palestine border was as heady in 1960s as it is in 2017. I still don’t know what happened to BarbaraVaughan and must read on.

I have just picked up Oliver Rackham’s “The History of the  English Countryside” and am already captivated by his photos of the long lost elm trees of England and for interludes I am savouring the perfect poems of Sasha Dugdale in her collection “Joy”.  “ How my friend went to look for her roots” is more toothsome than a  hazelnut cluster!





Third Sunday in Advent. Pixie says, “Is it Christmas yet?”

What a lot of indoors there is in December! I’ve bitten the baubles, tangled in the tinsel and it still isn’t Christmas yet. Bring me a mouse to eviscerate before I lose the spirit all together !


Second Sunday in Advent and Pixie singing.

5FE41AE6-C8F1-4A53-B449-0A34B1E91BF6It was wonderful that many readers enjoyed Louis MacNeice  “Sunlight on the Garden” and it made me bold enough to share his even greater poem “Snow”. I hope you like it .


The room was suddenly rich and the great bay window was

Spawning snow and pink roses against it

Suddlessly collateral and incompatible:

World is suddenly than we fancy it.


World is crazier and more of it than we think,

Incorrigibly plural. I peel and portion

A tangerine and spit the pips and feel

The drunkenness of things being various.


And the fire flames with a bubbling sound for word

Is more spiteful and gay than one supposes-

On the tongue on the eyes on the ears in the palms of one’s hands-

There is more than glass between the snow and the huge roses.


Louis MacNeice


The Sunlight on the Garden.



This is my favourite poem.

I have vowed never to teach it, just to read it when it snows.


The Sunlight on the Garden.

The sunlight on the garden
Hardens and grows cold,
We cannot cage the minute
Within its nets of gold,
When all is told
We cannot beg for pardon.

Our freedom as free lances
Advances towards its end;
The earth compels, upon it
Sonnets and birds descend;
And soon, my friend,
We shall have no time for dances.

The sky was good for flying
Defying the church bells
And every evil iron
Siren and what it tells:
The earth compels,
We are dying, Egypt, dying.

And not expecting pardon,
Hardened in heart anew,
But glad to have sat under
Thunder and rain with you,
And grateful too
For sunlight on the garden.

From Collected Poems of Louis MacNeice, published by Faber and Faber




First Sunday in Advent with cats

It it was snowing outside and warm inside.


0772FFCE-1661-49FC-8050-DD87D0D2DBED.jpegThat’s it!